GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is suing the city of Grand Rapids over an estimated monthslong wait to get information about how long it takes the Grand Rapids Police Department to fulfill public records requests.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in Kent County’s 17th Circuit Court, the ACLU argued the city is violating Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, which lays out how public entities must make public information available. The ACLU says that in March, it filed a FOIA request seeking records to show how many FOIA requests GRPD’s Records Unit has handled annually since 2022, what they were about and how quickly those requests were fulfilled.
In April, the lawsuit says, the Records Unit responded by saying that it would take about 2.25 hours of work to fulfill the request, it would cost the ACLU about $74 and that the ACLU would get the information in eight to 10 months, explaining that time frame was “due to the amount of FOIA requests we’re currently processing.”
The ACLU acknowledged that the law does not mandate a specific timeline for FOIA requests to be filled and rather says government agencies should provide a “reasonable opportunity” for the public to review records. The ACLU argues that the eight- to 10-month wait is not reasonable.
“By delaying production of public records responsive to plaintiffs’ FOIA request for 8-10 months, when fulfillment of the request will only take 2.25 hours, defendant has violated and continues to violate the FOIA by failing to furnish plaintiffs ‘a reasonable opportunity for inspection and examination of its public records’ under the Act and/or constructively denying plaintiffs’ request,” its lawsuit reads in part.
The ACLU says it filed an appeal with Grand Rapids’ FOIA Appeals Committee, but the committee decided the matter was not within its jurisdiction because the request had not been outright denied. However, the ACLU said the committee was also “troubled by what it conceded was a pattern of ‘lengthy delay’ in responding to FOIA requests.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order the city to fulfill the ACLU’s request “within a reasonable period of time” and pay for the its costs and attorney fees.
In an email Monday, the city of Grand Rapids told News 8 that it does not comment on pending litigation.
But in the city’s response to the ACLU’s filing with the FOIA Appeals Committee, an assistant city attorney said the Records Unit has not denied the ACLU’s request, “expressly or constructively.” The attorney went on to say the unit has responded to “all records in good faith and using the Unit’s best efforts” in accordance with the law.
The city attorney said that GRPD’s FOIA workload has nearly doubled since 2018: The Records Unit processed 1,187 FOIA requests in 2018 and 2,230 in 2022.
“The GRPD is not acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner but is responding to FOIA requests in the order in which they are received,” the city attorney wrote.